'It was surreal' - teenager Morgan Gannon delighted to make Leeds Rhinos debut
When Morgan Gannon was awarded Leeds Rhinos’ number 31 jersey in pre-season he certainly wouldn’t have expected to be wearing it in a competitive game just three weeks into the campaign.
The Halifax-born 17-year-old is very highly rated by Rhinos coach Richard Agar and the club’s rugby department, but his age alone put him at the back of a lengthy queue.
Rhinos are well off for second-rowers and it would take an unexpected sequence of events for him to get an opportunity so early, particularly against the country’s top team in a BBC-televised Betfred Challenge Cup tie.
But Leeds’ early season injury crisis is out of the ordinary and, though it is largely backs who are ruled out, there has been a knock-on impact in the pack, with forwards having to play out of position.
Alex Mellor, Rhyse Martin and Cameron Smith all had to shift into the backs for the 26-18 loss to St Helens three days ago, so Gannon was called up on the bench, achieving an ambition he has had since “I was about four years old”.
He became the 1,469th player to turn out for Leeds and it was the beginning of what many at the club believe will be a long and successful career.
Looking back on his big day, Gannon recalled: “It was very surreal in the warm-up, I didn’t really feel like I was going to actually play, but when he [Agar] told me to get warmed-up I was really excited.
“There weren’t many nerves or anything, I was more eager to get my first carry and to get into the game.”
Gannon played the final 15 minutes, coming on when Leeds trailed 20-6.
He said: “It gave me time to get settled into the game and get my hands on the ball a bit more and make some tackles.
“It was a bit unexpected, really, to get that long, but I was really happy with it.”
Gannon is a product of the Siddal community club in Halifax - where clubmates Kruise Leeming and Tom Holroyd learned their trade - and was promoted straight from Rhinos’ scholarship to the full-time squad at the end of last year.
The pre-season game at Huddersfield Giants a month ago was the first time he had played against open-age opposition and he knows he still had a lot of work to do before he’s ready for a regular place in the matchday 17.
“I feel like I can definitely do more to put my stamp on the game and have real impact,” he stated.
“But it is good to test myself against Saints, one of the best teams in the comp’.
“It gives me a lot of confidence going forward, if I get called up again, to back myself.”
Gannon was one of two teenagers on the bench at TW Stadium, alongside 19-year-old Jarrod O’Connor.
Their fathers were front-row rivals in the early days of Super League, Jim Gannon for Halifax, Huddersfield Giants and Hull KR and Terry O’Connor with Wigan Warriors.
Both were at last weekend’s game.
Leeds’ starting lineup included 20 year olds Jack Broadbent and Sam Walters and with 12 senior players unavailable, Gannon reckons the spirited performance will give the squad confidence going into Thursday’s visit of Wigan Warriors.
He said: “It was a massive effort, we were down to two forwards playing at half-back, but our gameplan was to go through them in the middle and I thought we did, I thought we had a lot of tough players working for each other and covering each other. I was really proud of what the boys did.”
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